Three Troubling Pauline Passages

Justin Johnson

The most amazing statements on salvation by grace without works in the entire Bible are found in Paul’s epistles. What liberation it is for sinners to learn that God offers salvation freely by grace through faith in the finished work of Christ (Eph 2:8-9; Gal 5:1).

There is nothing you do to deserve or earn salvation from God.

Nevertheless, there are a few Pauline passages that repeatedly trouble new believers as to whether their sins can negate what God has given them by grace.

For the religious minded fruit inspectors 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Ephesians 5:5-6, and Galatians 5:21 become tests of salvation, and when you fail the test one of these explanations is given:

“You were never a Christian in the first place.”
“A Christian would never do these things.”
“Faith without works is dead.”
“You need to repent and get right (again) with God.”

Not Tests of Salvations

Let’s be clear. If these three passages are talking about conditions or qualifications for salvation then there will be no one but Christ in the kingdom of God.

A look at the wide scope of sins mentioned in these passages disqualifies all but the self-righteous in their own delusions.

It would also mean that your salvation by grace is not through faith, but through your continuance in doing good works the rest of your life. This described salvation is under Israel’s covenant relationship, but not in this dispensation of grace (Mark 13:13; Lev 18:5).

No, these passages are not tests of salvation or membership in the body of Christ.

Not Conditions of Inheritance

To avoid the obvious problem with making them tests of salvation, it is sometimes suggested that these three passages put conditions and qualifications on your inheritance, blessings, or levels of glory in heaven.

While it is true that the work of the saints will be judged by Christ for reward or loss, these passages cannot be referring to that either.

1 Cor 6:10 says that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom, it does not say they will not have as many rewards or will “suffer loss” as does 1 Cor 3:15 at the judgment of the saints.

Eph 5:5 makes it clear that those sinners do not have “any inheritance”. It is not lesser inheritance, but any inheritance at all. This would be contrary to Eph 1:3, Eph 1:18, and Eph 3:6 that describe the saved having “all spiritual blessings”, “the riches of the glory of this inheritance”, and as being “fellowheirs” according to the mystery.

While these passages are surely intended to condemn wrong thinking and actions among the saints, they cannot be referring to believers who have been promised an inheritance by grace even if we do suffer loss for poor workmanship at the judgment seat of Christ.

A question remains. Why is Paul warning believers about what happens to unbelievers who are living in their flesh?

Understanding Your Position

Something often overlooked in Paul’s instructions to the saints is the difference between our position and our condition. It has also been referred to as our standing and state, salvation and service.

Your salvation, standing, or position in Christ is received by grace through faith. This new position in the body of Christ has changed your identity, that is, who you are.

You are no longer a sinner, but a saint (Rom 5:19). You are no longer in Adam, but in Christ (Rom 5:17). You are no longer a servant of sin, but a servant of righteousness (Rom 6:17-18).

This new identity is like the job title you are given on the first day of work. You have not done any work, but you have been given a new identity; you sit in a new position.

What would happen if on day two in your new position you were doing your old job and not your new one? No doubt, your boss would remind you that you no longer hold that position, and need to do the work becoming of your new position.

Whether or not you are operating according to the privileges, benefits, or description of your new position is called your condition, service, or walk. It concerns your performance in Christ.

All three troubling passages are trying to correct the performance, walk, or service of believers by reminding them of who they are and who they are not.

“Remember your position. Remember who you are, not who you were. Walk according to who you are now in Christ.”

Knowing your position will put these trouble passages in the proper perspective. Let’s look at each one.

Trouble Passage #1) 1Corinthians 6:9-10

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither … shall inherit the kingdom of God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

This is very clear that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Though you had been in the position of an unrighteous person before you were saved, you have now, after trusting the gospel, been made the righteousness of God in Christ by grace through faith (2 Cor 5:21).

Notice the verse right after the troubling passage which distinguishes what the Corinthians were with what they are now in Christ.

“And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:11

They were unrighteous, but now they are justified and sanctified. What they were was not what they are now in Christ, and it had nothing to do with their behavior. The reason Paul condemns the unrighteous is that the Corinthians were acting like them as if it were acceptable behavior in their new position.

“Stop doing unrighteous things. That is not who you are anymore! Those things are condemnable.”

Trouble Passage #2) Ephesians 5:5-6

“…hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.” – Ephesians 5:5-6

What a terrifying verse, and rightly so! Sin deserves all wrath, and the wrath of God is revealed upon all sinners (Rom 1:18).

The question remains, are you a child of disobedience or not? Is that your title? Is that your position?

The religious minded would have you believe that if you disobey, then that means you are a child of disobedience. That was the case under the law, but no longer under grace. Now, you can be justified by grace through faith in Christ without works and without the law. This is the mystery of Christ!

Notice the verses immediately following the condemnation of the children of disobedience.

“Be not ye therefore partakers with them.” – Ephesians 5:7

Don’t partake with them? Who are they? Not the saved Ephesians. But why?

“For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light…” – Ephesians 5:8

They were children of disobedience and darkness, but now they are changed. They have a new position in Christ! Every saved member of the body of Christ is a child of light, and Paul teaches them to walk according to their new job description received and secured by grace without works.

“…walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called,” – Ephesians 4:1

Trouble Passage #3) Galatians 5:21

“…that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” – Galatians 5:21

Like the previous two passages, knowing your position puts this troubling passage in context as well.

The Galatians had received the Spirit and salvation through faith, but they were being persuaded to walk under the law. There is a difference between living in and walking in. There is a difference between position and condition.

The Galatians thought the only way to avoid the condemnation of sin after salvation was to go back under the law, but the law brought condemnation. Paul exhorts them in the better way, “Walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16).

“But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.” – Galatians 5:18

If they were truly saved by grace through faith, then they do not live in the flesh, but in the Spirit and not under the law.

If there is one thing we cannot be condemned for under grace, it is the work of our flesh. The power of the law to condemn the flesh was removed when it was crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20; Gal 5:24; Rom 6:6; Rom 7:4).

The admonition Paul gives the Galatians in chapter 5 is found in Gal 5:25:

“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”

But how do you know if you are walking after the Spirit or after the flesh?

They could tell whether their flesh or the Spirit was winning the war for their walk by what comes out of them. The works of the flesh were manifest, and are condemned by God. The fruit of the Spirit is where there is no condemnation (Rom 8:1; Gal 5:23).

If the Galatians received the Spirit by faith, then they lived by the Spirit. They needed to walk after the Spirit in order to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Any attempt to walk under the law would strengthen their condemned flesh, bring condemnation, and manifest the condemnable works of the flesh.


These passages have troubled grace believers for a while and it is time to set them at rest. They may be difficult but not impossible. There is no reason to sacrifice the riches of God’s grace by neglecting to remember who you are in Christ and how you were saved.

Don’t forget who Christ made you, and how that was possible. It is the cross of Christ that did all the work necessary for your salvation, and the power of the resurrection of Christ that guarantees you a heavenly place with Christ.

The response to sin for the believer is to stop living like who you were, and start living according to who you are in Christ by faith.

Now it is our duty to live up to the high calling we have received freely through Him.

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Published: August 19, 2017
Last Modified: September 27, 2019
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